Bright Lights Swiss Chard

bright lights swiss chard by william cillina via

The closer we get to spring, the more I am longing for some bright light. Yesterday, as the kids were off from school, we spent some time out in the cold, winter landscape. Even though the ground is covered with over a foot of snow, the day was sunny and bright. I love seeing folks outside in the increasingly longer days, soaking up the sunshine in spite of the bitter cold.

Back in the office now, I have to get my plant lists finalized and sent out to nurseries. If I wait too long, I know that some of the best plants will be missed out on for the summer. A trend that I really like and am looking to do more of is mixing ornamental vegetables into the ornamental borders. From variegated corn to tri-colored peppers, several gardens are already using vegetables in the ornamental border. Before you think about cabbages and kales in the early spring or autumn planting scheme, think again. This past summer, I added a globe artichoke to an existing perennial border. It was the bold, silver statement that the border needed.

For this coming summer, we are planning to use more of the Bright Lights Swiss chard. As an annual in our Maine climate, the stem colors are remarkable. Here is the description from the Johnny’s Selected Seed catalog: “Lightly savoyed, green or bronze leaves with stems of many colors including gold, pink, orange, purple, red, and white with bright and pastel variations.” In other words, a lot of remarkable and smile-inducing colors. We have grown Bright Lights in our kitchen cafe garden for several years. This summer, I am planning on featuring it in the first bed you come to as you enter the walk to our Visitor Center. When I did a walk-through of the summer designs with our staff, they all did a collective “aaah” when I mentioned using Bright Lights Swiss chard as an annual bedding plant. I have it nestled between Phygelius ‘Devil’s Tears’ and Agastache ‘Ava.’ These colors combined will either make our guests smile and want to enter or turn around and go back to their car. You know that saying, art should elicit a response, either good or bad? If there is no response, then you must be playing it too safe. We shall see. And please do not turn away!

In case you want to impress your friends at your next cocktail party, the entire Latin name for Bright Lights is Beta vulgaris subsp. cicla var. flavescens ‘Bright Lights’. For brevity’s sake, I will continue to call it Bright Lights Swiss chard. Plant small plants of Bright Lights when the soil is between 50 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. You can also direct sow the seeds when the soils are the same temperatures. In warmer climates, Bright Lights may fade in color or struggle to grow but if you live in the Deep South and you are out working in the garden when it is over 95 degrees, then that is your own fault. Consider it your retribution for making fun of New England during the cold wintertime.

Have you grown Bright Lights or any of the Swiss chards? Are you mixing vegetables into your ornamental plantings?


Images: William Cullina

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rodney eason

Rodney Eason - Director of Horticulture and Plant Curator at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, father of 4, husband to a Renaissance woman. I spent the first part of my life in North Carolina, the middle in Pennsylvania, and now I am determined to become a Mainer  while keeping my southern drawl. I consider the rhetorical question, "you're not from around here, are you?" a compliment. I love great gardens, beautiful plants, and inspiring architecture. Because of this, I am on a lifelong quest to find a garden that artistically combines beautiful plants while being centered around an evocative building. For me, this would be Beatrix Farrand's Dumbarton Oaks, with the plants of Lotusland and Chanticleer, around Fay Jones' Thorncrown Chapel. My wife and I are now making our new home and garden in a 130 year old New England house with a farmer's porch near the Damariscotta River in coastal Maine. When our kids get into college, we want to hike the Appalachian Trail as a family over a summer break. My likes (in random order): the smell of fresh basil and rosemary, bold foliage, India Pale Ale, good running shoes, Top Gear, the smell of New England in the fall (it reminds me a bit of English Leather, which my grandfather wore), and the sound of our family laughing together around the dinner table. I dream of one day owning an old Toyota 4X4 pick-up and seeing the Avett Brothers in concert.
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1 Comment

  1. Debbie Feely on February 18, 2014 at 12:19 pm

    I love the look of the red chards in the flower garden, as well as the red leafed beets. So pretty, and so tasty. I prefer the taste of the red chards to the plain green.

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